Humans love other humans. That’s how it’s been throughout the course of human history. Of course, we love our pets and some objects, too, but it’s a different kind of love. Romantic love, typically, only happens between humans. That’s true of the movies, too. Almost every movie with a romance will have it take place between humans. But there are some movies that want to push that—some movies that think human-human romance is too vanilla. Humans and non-humans is where it’s at.
Inspired by The Shape of Water, I’ll be counting down the top movies with romances between humans and non-humans. I’m going to keep it to only characters who don’t both look human, since there are many “alien” characters who look human and their relationships typically act just like a normal human-human romance. That’s boring.
Take whichever version of the King Kong story you want; they all, after a certain point, focus on the relationship between the giant ape and Ann. Sometimes, this is a completely one-sided relationship, while in other stories it’s more reciprocated. As far as we see, this isn’t a relationship that gets very far, but it’s clear that Kong feels a certain way about Ann, and that’s why she gets to stay alive—and what eventually threatens his survival.
Blade Runner 2049
Interestingly, not the last Ryan Gosling movie to appear on this list. In the recently released Blade Runner 2049, Gosling’s character has a holographic girlfriend, Jodi, with whom he spends most of his limited free time. She acts like a human, but can’t physically interact with him and has various other limitations because she’s a hologram. The film does a couple of really cool things with this conceit, including trying to figure out a way for the characters to be intimate with one another.
If there’s one thing that you shouldn’t fall in love with, it’s a zombie, right? After all, they literally had to die in order to come into existence. And nobody should fall in love with a dead man. But that’s just what happens in Warm Bodies, a Romeo and Juliet retelling featuring a human woman and a zombie man—the latter of whom killed and ate her former boyfriend. The film cheats a little by making the zombie far more human than zombies are traditionally portrayed, but still—he’s a zombie. That’s enough.
Beauty and the Beast
Human woman is captured by a gigantic beast. Gigantic beast turns out to be a tortured, tragic, thoughtful soul. Woman falls in love with gigantic beast, even though the aforementioned capturing makes it creepy. Enjoy, kids! The animated version of this story is one of Disney’s best movies, becoming the first animated film to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. The live-action remake … well, let’s just say that it’s not as good as that and move on.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Most of the superhero romances between humans and non-humans feature characters who look human. Thor and Superman, for instance, look like very bulky humans (who can fly, but shh). But Guardians of the Galaxy, and its sequel), features a romance between Peter Quill, a human male, and Gamora, a green alien. I suppose that, fundamentally, the relationship isn’t particularly different from one between two humans, but that’s true of most of the romances on this list. After all, humans are writing them, and we write what we know. Still, green alien. It’s different, folks.
But do you know what’s even better than a green alien? A 10-foot tall blue alien! At the core of Avatar is a romance between Jake Sully, bland human male, and Neytiri, giant blue female alien. This relationship actually takes a different path, as Jake enters into an avatar in order to interact with his romantic partner—and they even get to bond with their hair—or whatever happens in that scene I’m constantly trying to purge from my mind.
Fun fact: Both Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy and Neytiri in Avatar are played by Zoe Saldana.
Lars and the Real Girl
Hi, Ryan Gosling! It’s been a while. What’s that? You’ve moved on from a holographic A.I. to a sex doll that you’re pretending is a real woman? That’s awfully swell of you to do for us, Mr. Gosling. And you’re using the doll as a romantic partner with whom you don’t have sex? Even better!
Lars and the Real Girl is a weird, but great, movie, folks.
Mermaids could have made up a good number of the entries on this list. Splash and The Little Mermaid come to mind immediately, anyway. But you already know at least one of those (and the other one has Tom Hanks, so you should know it). Let’s talk about The Lure, a Polish glam rock musical about killer mermaids. One of them finds love and does everything she can do in order to make that work. It … it gets weird, okay? It’s great, don’t get me wrong, but just be prepared.
A man is invited to the house of his reclusive boss, only to discover that his boss has created an A.I. to whom he is supposed to administer the Turing test … only to fall in love with it. Ex Machina marked the directorial debut of Alex Garland and is one of 2015’s best films. It’s not just about this relationship, but about the questions it asks us about ourselves and humanity—filtered, at least in part, through that relationship.
Her might contain the sweetest relationship on this list. It’s between a lonely man and an operating system. Yes, like iOS or Windows, but more advanced than that, and it’s with him all the time because the movie’s set in the future. The operating system has a voice, thoughts, feelings—it just isn’t a physical being. The direction Her takes with this concept is fantastic and fascinating, and if you could only watch one movie on this list, I’d probably stress that it should be this one.